What a marvelous evening it was. World-class drummer Tommy Igoe and his Birdland All-Stars treated the George Mason University Center for the Arts audience to a joyous evening of jazz, funk, Brazilian and original music that featured new renditions of classics by David Bowie, The Police, Steely Dan, Charlie Parker, and other famed artists. Every high-energy number captivated these jazz aficionados.
It was the band’s third stop on a month-long, 20-city “Art of Jazz” tour. Ten brilliant musicians on brass, guitar, percussion, and keyboard, from U.S. coasts and beyond, revved up the tempo for 90 solid minutes. As they played, eleventh artist Jeremy Sutton captured the action on canvas, paper, and iPad. With bold, splashy strokes, he brought the players and instruments to life in colorful montages. It was mesmerizing.
Igoe introduced their third number, “Dear Lord, what were you thinking,” with a sly, subtle suggestion that it might have political meaning, perhaps tied to the last election, perhaps to something else entirely.
It got me thinking. What indeed was our Creator thinking, when he gathered those brilliant, classically educated farmers, merchants, and tradesmen from all over Colonial America, perhaps giving them Divine Guidance to debate ideas and craft documents that declared independence from the then-most powerful nation on Earth, launched a novel, untested form of government – and birthed the bold notion that all men (and women) are created equal … at least as an ideal, at least eventually, at least after the long, bitter struggles of the Civil War and Abolition, Suffrage, and Civil Rights Movements?
They didn’t stop there. The 1787 Constitution also launched the concept of federalism: the idea that a national government should legislate and rule only on national issues, but otherwise should leave individual states to innovate and test their own governing principles, for better or worse. They might devise brilliant solutions that are copied by all, or provide glaring examples of what not to do elsewhere.
Concerned about pure democracies and a tyranny of majorities, our Founding Fathers also established a separation of powers via three co-equal branches of government – and an Electoral College to prevent big urban areas from overwhelming sparsely populated rural and small town areas during presidential races. Five candidates have since received a majority of votes, but not electoral districts, and so lost their bids.
Fast forward the 21st century. Lord, what were you thinking this time around, as the Founders’ vision was sorely tested on so many fronts, and the U.S. political scene tossed and turned? My take on recent history:
Innovative, entrepreneurial spirits – aided by federalism, private land, and mineral ownership, and by an ability to get well underway before antagonistic federal regulators knew about it – launched a “fracking” revolution that unlocked gushers of oil and natural gas, ended “peak oil” fears, created numerous jobs, sent U.S. and global energy prices tumbling, and powered U.S. oil and gas production to record highs.
The Electoral College functioned as intended, with 84% of U.S. counties selecting a presidential candidate not favored by a majority of voters in mostly large metropolitan centers. Many analysts concluded that the election reflected growing frustration with an ever-expanding federal government that had largely discarded the concept of federalism and was dictating too many aspects of our lives – denying families, states, and companies the right to make decisions about their futures, so long as they don’t harm others.
A belief that government agencies and workers had become too secretive and unaccountable fueled this anxiety. Another major source of discontent was the feeling that Washington was imposing an attitude that the nation’s best years were behind it – that our right and ability to grow and prosper were being shackled.
Businesses and families felt this acutely in Middle America, a vast area that voted heavily for candidate Trump and which many of its inhabitants felt was too often dismissed as “Flyover Country.” Yet another concern involved the growing bureaucratic “fourth branch” of government, with a seeming disrespect for the rule of law and too close relationship with a news media seen as increasingly partisan.
Closely related was the anger and frustration many had with government agencies and activist groups that ignored the enormous environmental progress America has made over the past four decades, and were demanding that we spend trillions of dollars on imaginary problems and for barely detectable (or even fabricated) benefits from further reductions in pollution – even substances that clearly are not pollutants: plant-fertilizing, crop-enhancing, planet-greening, life-giving carbon dioxide, for instance.
Those attitudes and actions reflected an obsession in some quarters with “dangerous man-made climate change” and fostered a war on fossil fuels that was locking up the nation’s huge energy supplies, driving up energy costs, forcing businesses to downsize or close their doors, killing jobs, and driving young people back to their parents’ basements or out of small towns in search of employment and better lives.
These voters were buoyed, above all, by hope that a new Washington team would bring change, reform the regulatory state, reduce burdensome taxes and regulations, and once again unleash America’s too long pent-up entrepreneurial, innovative and investment instincts, passions, spirits, abilities, and determination.
The evidence suggests their hope is being rewarded, say former CKE Restaurants CEO Andy Pudzer and other observers. In anticipation of and in response to an exit from the Paris climate accord, a re-emphasis on fossil fuels, and multiple regulatory and tax reductions, the Dow Jones skyrocketed from 17,888 points on November 3, 2017, to an unprecedented 26,617 on January 26, 2018 – before plummeting an unheard of 2,500 points over the next six trading days, then went on a roller coaster of corrections and profit taking.
Portfolio values soared for millions of college and retirement funds, and company, union, and government pension funds. Even San Francisco decided not to eliminate fossil fuels from its pension holdings.
Over 125 companies gave hefty bonuses to employees. Walmart and other companies raised salaries. ExxonMobil plans to repatriate $50 billion for reinvestment in America, while Apple intends to bring back $350 billion over the next five years, creating 20,000 new jobs in the process. Overall, during 2017, the U.S. economy added over 2 million full-time jobs with benefits, says the Bureau of Labor Statistics, despite two major hurricanes in the third quarter, the first big ones to hit the U.S. mainland in a record 12 years.
In 2016, says Pudzer, the BLS recorded “the highest number of people working part time at year’s end since it began recording the data in 1968. In 2017, it recorded the highest number of people working full time at year’s end since 1968 and the fewest working part-time since 2011.” Meanwhile, GDP growth averaged 3% during the last three quarters of 2017, compared to a meager 1.5% during 2016.
Back on the energy and climate front, the Energy Information Administration says fossil fuels will still provide 78% of U.S. energy in 2050 – globally too. Wind and solar remain too expensive, unreliable, and land-intensive to power economies or give impoverished nations the living standards they dream of.
Meanwhile, the Obama EPA’s MAGGICC climate analysis model determined that even shutting down all U.S. coal-fired power plants and drastically limiting the nation’s greenhouse gas emissions – at a cost of up to $39 billion per year – would prevent just 0.03º F of man-made global warming by 2100, even assuming CO2 drives climate change, because the world will still be burning fossil fuels. In fact, all the damage and dire threats supposedly caused by greenhouse gases exist only in computer climate models.
And those models haven’t worked in the past, don’t work now, and are unlikely to work in the foreseeable future, say scientists like William Happer and Anthony Sadar. That’s because they focus on CO2, ignore the most important atmospheric gas (water vapor), and can’t solve enough equations needed to accurately describe Earth’s climate. Relying on them to decide energy and economic policies is folly and fakery.
So ponder this constitutional and political history, these energy and climate realities, the dreams of people the world over for better lives – and then enjoy a marvelous evening of Birdland All-Stars jazz and art.